On offense, we break down the team into three groups: the every-down players, the second-tier guys (who play from 40% to 75% of the snaps), and everyone else. Who did what this week on the road against the Steelers? It was a very exciting win, with seven lead changes, and three touchdowns inside the last two minutes of the game, two of which were romps by Ezekiel Elliott. Fortunately, the Cowboys won 35-30.
Overall, Dallas racked up another 422 yards on offense, for the seventh game in a row over 400 yards, extending the franchise record they just set. Their rushing totals per game declined slightly to 161 yards, but they still lead the NFL. Points per game ticked up to 28.7, and stayed fourth. (They are now within one-half a point per game of their 2014 season, in which they reached their second highest number of total points in franchise history.) Dak is still fourth in passer rating and third in adjusted yards per attempt. The Cowboys are now first in points per drive at 2.84.
Needless to say, this is an impressive offense, and it all starts up front.
The Every-Down Players
There were 65 snaps on offense this week, versus 73 against Cleveland, 78 against Philadelphia (overtime), 65 against Green Bay, 57 against Cincinnati, 76 against the Niners, 65 against the Bears, and and 68 against Washington.
- The offensive line of Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free played every down this week, after Smith missed three snaps late last week and Ron Leary missed 13 snaps under the concussion protocol. They were amazing again, getting out on a screen pass to let Zeke take it to the house on an 83-yard romp.
They also pancaked the entire Pittsburgh defense on the 32-yard game winning romp with nine seconds left. As Zeke said, the hole parted like the Red Sea.
- Dak Prescott also played every snap. The poise with which he led Dallas on two fourth-quarter drives to take the lead is just a reminder of how he has surpassed all expectations, and is now a legitimate starting quarterback. His overall passer rating continues to climb (106.2), as does his ANY/A (8.35). He added two more touchdown passes, for 10 in his last four games.
- Jason Witten also played every snap, and had game-changing plays at the end. On the final 33-second drive, he caught a 13-yard pass to the Dallas 48, then a five-yarder into Pittsburgh territory where he received a facemask penalty that put Dallas in field goal range. Zeke ran it in from the 32 on the next play. Overall, Witten had six catches on eight targets for 59 yards.
The Second Tier
This week, this group includes:
- Dez Bryant, 58 snaps. Six catches, nine targets, 116 yards, one TD (50 yards).
- Terrance Williams, 45 snaps, one catch, one target, five yards, but one key downfield block on Zeke’s 83-yard screen pass TD.
- Ezekiel Elliott, 43 snaps. 21 rushes, 114 yards, 5.4 ypc, long 32 yards, two rushing TDs; two catches, two targets, 95 yards, long 83 yards, one receiving TD.
- Cole Beasley, 35 snaps. Five catches, nine targets, 33 yards.
- Gavin Escobar, 18 snaps. No touches, but some great blocks. Took Geoff Swaim’s place when Swaim went out with a torn pectoral muscle.
- Brice Butler, 16 snaps. No targets.
This group was led by Zeke, with his 209 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. He also passed 1,000 yards rushing in nine games, to be one of three players in NFL history to accomplish that - along with Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson. He’s within a few yards of passing Tony Dorsett for most rookie rushing yards in Cowboys’ history. No one is questioning his place in the NFL draft now. Instead, they are putting him pretty high up on MVP lists.
Dez Bryant, who lost his father just before the game, was mostly on the same page as Dak, with only three of nine missed hookups. This 50-yard beauty put Dallas ahead by five late in the third quarter.
Cole Beasley did not have the same super-efficient game as usual, with only five catches on nine targets. But he had an important 10-yard catch to start the winning drive, and suffered an uncalled face mask penalty.
The other players receiving offensive snaps were:
- Lucky Whitehead, 11 snaps. One catch, five yards. Drew a 15-yard roughing penalty. Started the first fourth quarter drive to put Dallas ahead.
- Alfred Morris, 10 snaps. Four carries, 13 yards, 3.3 ypc. One catch, one target, six yards.
- Joe Looney, 9 snaps. Sixth lineman in heavy sets.
- Lance Dunbar, 8 snaps. No catches, one target. Huge block on Ryan Shazier on Dak’s 50-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant.
- Geoff Swaim, 7 snaps. No targets or catches. Dallas is likely to need a third tight end next week. James Hanna doesn’t appear to be ready. Will we see Rico Gathers? Will Dallas go outside the organization for help?
Role players who did their jobs well. No Keith Smith on offense this week.
Midway through the fourth quarter, it looked like the Cowboys might fall short of 400 yards, Zeke might have his second-worst rushing total, and the winning streak might end at seven games. Instead, when the game is on the line, this Cowboys’ team has answered the challenge. Two 75-yard drives were executed, one in only 33 seconds after Pittsburgh took a late lead. Both were punctuated by Ezekiel Elliott untouched romps into the end zone.
With New England’s loss at home to Seattle, Dallas now has the best record in the NFL.